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Buhari can’t eliminate hunger in two years

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“There is no way President Buhari can eliminate hunger in the next year or two. And anybody who tells you there is a magic wand to be waved by the president or vice president who is in charge of the economic policy and strategy or governors is lying to you. We will go through very difficult times. And it is important to be honest with Nigerians and to tell them we are actually in a very deep recession,” says Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed.

Baba-Ahmed, President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief returning officer in the 2015 presidential election, former secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and former federal permanent secretary belongs to the largely ignored APC chieftains shouting themselves hoarse over what they see as a deviation from the essence of the party. According to him, “a lot of our leaders have deviated from the foundations and essence of the APC and we are not happy with that,” adding that “they are running exclusive governments, non-inclusive administrations; they are running administrations that alienate rather than create greater popular participation.”

Baba-Ahmed, leader of principled APC chieftains in the North called Akida appears in this interview a leading authority in the theories and practice of politics, concluding that as it is President Buhari will need to take some urgent practical steps to stave-off the problem on his way to the presidency in 2019, otherwise he would have no political platform to canvass and campaign for election. He dwelt extensively on the problems in the APC, the demands of the North, 2019 election and other sundry national issues. Excerpts:

You are one of the leaders of Akida, an APC outfit. What’s that supposed to mean?

Akida is a platform in APC. It’s more pronounced in Kaduna State, but there are similar organizations in some other parts of Nigeria. It’s a platform that exists to keep alive the basic essence of the APC; to deliver or remind those who lead today and help them to deliver on the vision of APC as a party, the promises it made and the way that it can be of help in making sure that the efforts that our people made to elect President Buhari, governors and the members of the National Assembly are made. It is, basically, a platform erected by people who felt that, substantially, many of our leaders today have deviated from the essence, because that is what Akida means. A lot of our leaders have deviated from the foundations and essence of the APC and we are not happy with that. They are running exclusive governments, non-inclusive administrations; they are running administrations that alienates rather than create greater popular participation. They have abandoned the key issues that were supposed to inform why APC was voted for, so overwhelmingly, by Nigerians and Akida exists to keep alive those ideals and to insist on good governance and justice and accountable leadership.

At what point did you find your members in governance deviating to warrant the creation of Akida? And is Akida limited to the North? Is it a national forum?

Unfortunately, in most states where APC is very strong, you find internal divisions. That is unfortunate. It is unfortunate because for a party which is ruling for the first time, even though we expect some internal schisms, we do not expect it to manifest in the manner it is manifesting. Secondly, even though the reasons in each of these places is, substantially, local, the truth about it is that most of these divisions are informed by governments or administrations that are deliberately non-inclusive, governors who have absolutely no idea about how to use the political platform to deliver the dividends of democracy. Many of our governors operate as if they don’t owe anybody an explanation, particularly those who voted for them on what they do. They don’t have the kind of policy on ground that should show Nigerians the difference between an APC government and a PDP government. And we have administrations where governors now behave as if they are Lords over their people. That is very unfortunate for an APC administration. We came to power on the promise that we will be a different government from the PDP. So, Akida is not limited to Kaduna State. It is a platform. The true conscience of the APC in Kaduna State is Akida. But you will find similar groups in many parts of the North and other parts of Nigeria where APC has formed a government, where the governance process is not being run in accordance with the ideals of our party.

You were one of the staunch supporters of President Buhari

I still am.

When people like you speak in this manner, it certainly would baffle some Nigerians. Nevertheless, at what point did people deviate from the ideals of the APC?

I am talking of Akida at the state level. I am not sure that it is Akida at the national level even though we have a lot of problems at the national level too. Most of the opposition problems that exist operate at the state levels. At the national level, what we have is that a lot of people who contributed to the establishment of the APC appear to have packed their luggage and want to move out. That’s a different thing.

What is responsible for that?

To be honest with you, I think part of it has to do with personal ambitions. APC is made up of huge numbers of people who have migrated from one party to another and one party to another one and in 2013, 2014 and to some extent 2015, many people saw the prospect that APC could form a government and we were, literally, inundated by just about anybody. We threw our doors open, welcomed everybody and as God would have it, we ended up with victory. Some of those people have become migrants, political migrants. They move from one party to another one and now they are with us in the APC and chances are that if they do not see a future that addresses their personal ambition or what they really wanted to get from APC, they are likely to move. It’s natural. People left PDP in 2013, 2014 to come into APC and they will leave APC.

When you talk about ambition, the problems in the APC and you look at the few ambitious politicians, you wonder if the number would be enough to unsettle the APC because the ultimate is the presidency. How many of them have presidential ambition…

Not necessarily. Not all of them want the presidency. Some people want to control the people who will run for the presidency. Some people want power, not by exercising it directly, but they want to control those who exercise power. The building blocks of the APC was made up of people who were genuinely committed to an agenda for change and there are others who came into it because they saw the agenda of those who are committed and as we move nearer into 2019, you are likely to see these groups.

We will talk about that, but at some points, the government of President Buhari itself acknowledged that it has substantially under performed. It blames factors, which predated it as well as new unforeseen developments that adversely affected the economy and national security. At the same time it celebrated substantial progress in the fight against Boko Haram, corruption and even a trickling of success in the return of the Chibok girls. But Nigerians are saying there is hunger in the land, resulting from rising cost of living.

What is happening?

What is happening is that the APC government is not wrong in blaming the past. It is right in blaming the past.

But must it blame the past perpetually?

No, no, no, by no means. But it is important to remind Nigerians of the past so that we don’t go back to that past.

After reminding us of the past, what happens?

No, I am coming. You asked me why things are the way they are and I have in many ways drawn attention to the fact that President Buhari and the administration of APC, both at federal and state levels are not wrong to keep reminding Nigerians that the damage we are having to deal with as a party was actually done three, four, five, six years ago. There is nothing wrong with that. The most important thing here is not so much to say to Nigerians please don’t hold us responsible because we are responsible today for what Nigeria is, but to make sure that we don’t go back there. That is one. Two, we do need to address current issues. President Buhari did not stop Nigerians from farming.

So if there is hunger in the land, it is not because President Buhari’s government stopped people from producing food. In fact, quite opposite, we have produced more food in 2015 and 2016 than possibly we have done in the last 20 years, any of the years in the last 20 years.

So, why the hunger now?

There is hunger now because cost of living is very high. As everybody knows, our revenues have crashed. Most of the major sources of current revenue are being sabotaged and destroyed. So the country is in dire strait. We used to sell petrol for $140 per barrel, now it is $40, $50. There is bound to be a difference. There is very little direct foreign interest coming into the country because the economy itself is operating at sub optimum level. There are a lot of problems with security and foreign direct investments don’t go to where there are security challenges. And so I don’t think it is the wrong thing to blame the past, but what is wrong about it is to dwell only on blaming the past. Today, President Buhari and our governors and our APC legislators are in charge of this country; so they can’t pass the buck to a past. They must come to terms with the challenges they are facing today and find solutions to them. You are right. Nigerians are suffering. A lot of people are losing jobs; a lot of businesses are closing down.

How are you going about finding solutions to the problems?

Well, one of the ways we would do that now I hope, because I am not a part of the government, but I am hoping that those in government are assessing how to deal with the economy in recession, re-prioritise and create national momentum behind new goals and objectives. We need to change the nature of the Nigerian economy. We have seen the damage now of over reliance on oil and gas and what we need to do is to now focus attention on making sure that the Nigerian economy can be rebuilt on a different structure. It must be built on the basis of our human capital, our other resources like agriculture, land, mineral resources and we must re-prioritise; power, for instance, basic infrastructure and investments in our social assets, education, health and the likes. Those are our priorities. Everything else can wait. If you don’t address security now, rebuilding basic infrastructure, this country will not recover.

Would you agree with those who are saying that wrong economic policy by the government is responsible for the recession and the hunger in the land?

I don’t think it is wrong economic policy. To be honest with you, I think that our policy in dealing with economic recession has not been well articulated. I am not sure that we have benefitted as much as we should from the best intellectual and other assets that are available to government. I think there is a deficiency in our thought processes. I think there is a shortfall in terms of the quality of people we should deploy to manage an economy in recession and I think that the political will that has been deployed, for instance, in the fight against corruption, important as it is, has not been that strongly deployed in the fight to revise or reduce the damage from recession and I think those are areas where we can make improvements.

Who takes the blame for all these?

Obviously, the leadership and I think President Buhari can do better. I know he wants to do better. He can do better. The VP who has substantial responsibility can assist.

Why has he not done better if you think he can do better; he’s almost two years in the saddle?

Nigerians gave President Buhari four years to run this country. And with all the promises there is hunger. And he will still make promises three months before his election. There is nothing wrong with making promises. There is no way President Buhari can eliminate hunger in the next year or two. And anybody who tells you there is a magic wand to be waved by the president or vice-president who is in charge of the economic policy and strategy or governors is lying to you. We will go through very difficult times. And it is important to be honest with Nigerians and to tell them we are actually in a very deep recession.

Deep recession with all the promises that made Nigerians to vote for him?

When he made those promises, he didn’t know the prices of crude were going to crash to below $40. He didn’t know Niger-Delta sabotage was going to surface. He didn’t know of all these things. Again, you don’t promise on the basis of what you know. You make promises on the basis of what you expect to see if you are there. He didn’t know there was an empty treasury. We didn’t know that PDP has plundered the economy. So, it was okay, but you cannot hold him for making false promises. And you cannot hold him responsible for reminding Nigerians about why we are where we are. What you can hold him for is his inability to move the country forward in spite of the problems he inherited. That is where you can hold him responsible. But you can’t hold him responsible for an economy that was depleted and destroyed before he became president.

Many Nigerians, including experts on economic policies are of the opinion that if the president had disbanded his economic team and run an all inclusive government, bringing in credible, knowledgeable  and inspired Nigerians who are not necessarily of APC stock as was being canvassed, he probably would have done better.

I will just say that I think there is some merit in the argument that he can improve the quality of input into economic policy. There is definitely a good case to be made. There are people the president can tap into. I think there is greater scope for the private sector to make input into the management of an economy in recession. I think that some of the key people involved in giving him advice on managing the economy need to be looked at critically. If the people are not serving their purposes, then obviously they have no place in the Buhari administration.

I asked this because widespread disenchantment with poor governance and the weak political will of the past combined with credible alternative to produce the Buhari administration which consequently led to national rebirth at the outset. Majority voted for him because it was felt a new administration led by Buhari would give jobs to young people, create an economy that would not count successes in the number of billionaires…

(Cuts in) Like Jonathan did because Jonathan counted the number of private jets and billionaires as part of his success…

But Nigerians also thought that Buhari’s administration was going to be different. However, almost two years on, the popular demand behind the need to do things differently seems to have disappeared. Now, it is like another administration waiting for elections to seek another mandate.

I am afraid that we have to disagree with you here. There are actually Nigerians, many of them the type that you don’t want to hear about or you don’t hear about. Rural dwellers for whom the impact of the recession is actually minimal. These were not people who were at the heart of the Nigerian economy. They were rural producers, food producers who are doing very well. They are producing food that is selling at fairly good prices. If you can sustain the level of inputs into that economy, those people are not as adversely affected as the agro based people and the elite, you and I. We are the people who have been most negatively affected by the recession.

You think so?

I know so. I assure you that I am in touch with major segments of this country. Like I said, I am not trying to say there isn’t suffering and hardship in the land. There is. People are going through unusual difficulties. But, sometimes, I think that if you do a class analysis, the people at the lower ends of the economy, rural producers, agricultural producers, a large number of those people are actually doing fairly well. They are not as adversely affected as the rich, elite and urban settlers. Now, urban settlers are important people.

You must not abandon them particularly in political terms, those people are very important. Every segment of the nation needs attention, very careful evaluation of where it stands in relation to the recession. Nigerians voted for Buhari to bring change. He brought some changes. He is fighting Boko Haram; nobody will dispute that. He is fighting corruption. You could say that all of it is not showing, but at least people know you don’t have a corrupt president. And Nigerians forget; it’s quite possible that he is the only president who has come to power where you have a near universal acclaim that this man…Buhari is the only president today that every Nigerian, every foreigner will tell you that he is not corrupt. Sometimes we don’t attach importance to this. In the context of Nigeria and our history, this is a major thing. So, he is clean. He is fighting corruption, maybe there are mixed results, but he has signaled intention to fight corruption. If you have a different government; thank God it’s not PDP in power, with the combination of crashed revenues, ineptitude, incompetence, lack of vision, lack of strong political will, I don’t think we will have Nigeria today. Today as I speak to you, I don’t think there will be a country .

How?

Because clearly if Jonathan had been president now, if he had won in 2015 with that kind of weak will, incompetence, horrible corruption going on, people who were selling guns to insurgents to fight our soldiers, stealing money meant for soldiers to fight insurgency, there will be no country. First of all the insurgents will pretty much have overrun this country. Then opportunistic economic and security threats would have emerged. And like I said, Nigerians took the right decision when they decided to throw away the PDP.

But do you know there are Nigerians today who are saying take us back to the era of the PDP and President Jonathan if you cannot do better…

(Cuts in) We know who those people are. These are people who made millions and billions under Jonathan. They are the ones who are facing trouble under EFCC. They don’t include you and I.

They include even the poor who are suffering today. You ask them they will tell you. They will tell you we should have been left where we were…

(Cuts in) Well, I don’t know which poor you are talking about. I am from the northern part of the country and I can tell you…I am just from Maiduguri now and I can tell you if you go to Maiduguri and in the streets and you open your mouth and abuse Buhari, I am not sure, with all due respect to the law-abiding people of Maiduguri, I am not sure one of them will resist the temptation to slap you.

It is obvious in the case of Maiduguri and the whole of Borno State because of the liberation efforts of Buhari in terms of the war against Boko Haram which we have all agreed have recorded appreciable successes.

No, no, no. It is obvious in many parts of the country. We have peace in most parts of the country. We didn’t have that under Jonathan. We have a government that is serious about fighting corruption. We didn’t have that under Jonathan. He was encouraging corruption.

Other people will also tell you they had peace under Jonathan. Not much of invasion by herdsmen was heard with government keeping quiet…

(Cuts in) Where?

Southern Kaduna, for instance. It is even now they have no peace in their land.

Most of Southern Kaduna has peace. The flashpoint…

Okay, let us leave Southern Kaduna, go to Enugu State, the whole of Agatu and more than five local councils in Benue State know no peace. In fact, you have humanitarian crisis just like the one in Maiduguri there. There are other areas one can mention.

Let me remind you that 70 percent or 80 percent of the problems we are dealing with here now were inherited from Jonathan’s time. IPOB, kidnappings were there when Jonathan was there. Niger-Delta militancy was there. It’s just that they were bribed so they kept their heads low. Banditry and inter-communal clashes were there before President Buhari came to power. But in addition, you also had corrupt government, a weak government, an indecisive government, all. So you had a lot of security challenges that were compounded by a very weak and corrupt government. Now, what we are doing is trying to say that at least an honest administration can safeguard the resources of the country, substantially. Nobody is stealing; not to my knowledge. No one will come to Buhari and give him a bribe. You don’t hear about this kind of billions and billions of money being stolen through NSA or ministers. It is unbelievable. Look, I was in government. I spent 25 years of my life in public service. I spent 10 years as a federal permanent secretary. Now, when I hear some of the things that they did in the last four, five years, I can’t believe that it is the same government that I served and I left in 2010. I cannot believe it. It is incredible. That is the difference that leadership makes. Would you allow N1 trillion to be stolen by you, your ministers, by civil servants, by private sector or would you stop it. That is the difference Buhari is making.

Would we not be right to say these are just allegations because nobody has been convicted yet? Nobody has been sent to prison and so they remain allegations. They are allegations that are being tested in the courts of law. But no one has been sentenced yet.

Fair enough. We have evidence. A lot of people are returning money. We have those evidences. They are there before the courts of law. If not for the lethargy and the weaknesses in the judiciary, 90 percent of these cases would have been disposed of. Now, I am not saying the people would have been found guilty. I am saying that the cases would have been disposed of and then Nigerians would know whether trillions of their money was not being stolen under an administration that was literally just frittering away our assets. So one of the things that President Buhari needs to do is to find ways in which he can fast track the trials of people who are suspected of corruption. That’s very important so that questions like this one you are asking me can stop. People will say they are just mere allegations. But nobody stole two, three trillion naira under Jonathan 2013, 2014, 2015? We need to know. If people did that then it is up to Buhari to prove it. And he has to find a way to improve the way in which corruption cases are being handled.  And it is not impossible. I think he just needs a little more imagination in his greater collaboration with the National Assembly and he needs people who can help him. Prof. Itse Sagay’s committee is very good and it has a lot of very good ideas about how to fast track trials. One of the ways President Buhari can help in good governance is to actually demonstrate to Nigerians that all these things we are saying are not allegations. People were actually stealing trillions of naira under a government that was doing it first before other people did it.

This time next year, APC is likely to have stronger opposition. Much of this may be made up of those who combined with President Buhari to create the APC. In that case, the APC will require very strong muscles to limit the damage that may become evident as powerful and ambitious party men do what was done to the PDP in 2013 and 2014. Is the APC comprehensively surveying the terrain in order to rebuild platforms,  alliances and new territories in hostile areas?

I hope so.

I asked this question because of the intimate linkages between partisan politics and national security which will be pronounced as politicians calculate what their gains in the fight for the control of the nation are in 2019.

I hope the party… I can’t speak for the APC.

But you are a strong member of the APC as an interim chairman of the party in a state described as the hub of the North

I am a member of the APC and I have access to a lot of the leaders. I know that they are very concerned about the weakness of the party, especially in relation to its internal problems and I hope that in the next few months APC will find a way of fixing its internal problems. A lot of quarrels in states need to be fixed because you can’t fix problems a week or two before an election. Regarding powerful and ambitious members, I am afraid there is very little that can be done.

Whatever President Buhari or the party does, if some people who are serial joiners of party and serial changers of party decide that their future is not consistent with 2019, they will go. Personally, I wish they go now so that we know who is left behind and then we can rebuild the party. But they will go. There will be people who will want to be president in 2019; there will be people who will want others to be president in 2019. President Buhari might want to run in 2019 or not.

So those are legitimate concerns. There is nothing wrong in having ambition. That is what politics is all about. And there is nothing wrong in moving your luggage out of a room if you feel the room does not have enough space for you. But the party needs to be vigilant. It must be constantly monitoring how much damage can be done and if it can limit that damage. If it doesn’t, if it is not drawing the appropriate lessons from what happened to PDP in 2013 and 2014, then we are in serious trouble because we have a large number of PDP people who have formed strong pillars in the building of the APC and there is nothing that says that some of those people will not do to APC what they did to PDP in 2013, 2014. Nothing. And there are also people who were part of Legacy Party who were part of the original building blocs, APC, who could decide that their own future schemes are inconsistent with the APC or cannot find realization in the APC. They will move out. But the question you asked is very important and I agree with you. The party needs vigilance. It needs massive rebuilding. It needs to improve the manner in which governance is going on and it should encourage President Buhari to reach out to those people with whom he built alliances in 2012, 2013, 2014 and those alliances need to be preserved as much as it is possible. If they cannot be preserved, and then minimize the damage that will come from the failure to preserve these alliances. This is important. But of course, it is natural. I think midway in the next six months, you are likely to see new parties being formed.

That is why I asked if you are surveying the scheming critically.

We are surveying. I am surveying it. I hope the party is surveying it. But I know there is a lot of talk about a new party. We hear some of the names behind it. Some of them are APC; some of them are old PDP. Some of them are people who don’t want to show their hands now. But in politics, there is always a time when you have to show your hand. There is a time to lie low and there is a time to step out. I think in the next six months we will be talking about, quite possibly, the shape of what opposition the APC will meet. As you are aware, this is the only year we have for governance. It would seem that those who worked out this merger or alliance that is now APC did not foresee what is going on behind the party now.

APC was substantially a collaboration to win an election. All parties are. This is the first time a coalition of interests came together and won an election, defeated a sitting government. It is natural that you will have in that coalition people, who wanted power for its own sake, people who saw victory in terms of their personal interests, people who saw an opportunity to form governments and didn’t pay too much attention to what these governments will do. And it is possible that that coalition that President Buhari and a few other people put together didn’t give too much thoughts about exactly what they were going to do other than the fact that they have a General Buhari then and now President Buhari as head of the government. We adopted this rather nebulous title called ‘change’ and because people wanted ‘change’, they voted for him. Perceptions change, interests change, ambitions come into play, people will assess whether their joining the APC has been useful to them. If I continue staying in the party, would my interest be hurt or served? So, it is natural and you should expect this kind of things. And it will happen. What is important is that APC should try and minimize the damage that will come. Otherwise, by 2018 we are going to have huge numbers of people…

In other words, you are foreseeing danger for the APC?

Of course, there is always danger if you become complacent; if you become incompetent in managing complaints and you lose vigilance and focus in terms of managing yourself and the opposition, you are in serious trouble. In politics, everyday, you have to be vigilant.

Don’t you think this vice is in the APC?

Like I said APC has difficulties. It has problems. My hope is that they are watching some of these issues I am talking about.

What I can gather now is that it is like the real character of the APC started showing as the spoils of victory were being distributed because one observed in 2016 that key elements in the APC such as the character and person of President Buhari, the often-conflicting interests of very powerful office holders who hold varied opinions over the real meaning of the ‘change’ mantra, the chieftains from parties who led and submitted to the merger and Nigerians who expected dramatic and quality changes in the conditions of their lives appear to be in conflict with each other. Are you seeing this too?

I don’t know what you are seeing. But what I am seeing is that it’s a very interesting time now. In May, we are going to be two years since the formation of the Buhari administration. So, this is a very interesting time. In politics, this is usually the time when you see most trouble, Mid-term. In America, they call it the Mid-term blues.

Every government goes through a lull because coming in you have great expectations; then when you come to power, politics is different. If you are campaigning for an office, it is different from when you have the office. Governments channels its challenge substantially because when you are campaigning, you make promises, but when you are confronted with power you are confronted with the reality that some of the things you wanted to do are not feasible. So, this is natural. In fact, it is also an opportunity to do a re-assessment. You need to assess your priorities. What did you do right and what did you do wrong? What can you do with some of the issues you are dealing with now? What is wrong with the economy now and what can we do to improve it? What exactly is the security situation? Is it getting better or getting worse? Where are the key issues that create security challenges for us, economic, social, personal, security of lives and property? Then you will need to focus on the future, what is going to happen next year. Next year is going to be all about 2019 elections. Substantially, 2018 is the year that will determine what happens in 2019. You won’t have enough time for administration as opposed to politicking. Are you going to be involved in politics yourself? How much time will you have for governance as opposed to politics?

This mid-term blues is real. But in the particular case of the APC, it appears disastrous because of the combination of blocs that form the party and Nigerians who expect immediate change from government. For instance, we have made reference to serial party changers. Are the times not particularly dangerous for the APC?

Not dangerous. Challenging, yes, but not dangerous. The party is not being threatened by those issues as much as I think is being threatened by the failure to assess the degree to which it is actually galvanizing public opinion. All those things that you mentioned can be processed, managed and manipulated up to a point if you have a visionary party, strong party that is involved not only in making inputs into governance but also in mediating relationships between all those big interests that you mentioned. These interests are very important. People came into politics; they joined APC because they wanted something. You need to find out who wanted what and to see the degree to which they are not getting it or are getting it. They are getting frustrated…

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